By Janne Huang
The team at Prepare + Prosper (P+P), an organization that provides free tax and financial services in Minnesota, injects uniquely energetic tactics into their work. They are an enthusiastic bunch, committed to helping people build a better financial life. When talking to them about their statewide Claim It! EITC outreach campaign, it’s clear they’re passionate— possibly obsessively so — about taxes, savings, and talking money.
“At Prepare + Prosper, we make free tax preparation, claiming the EITC, and saving at tax time fun!” said Taylor Putz, Claim it! campaign manager.
The organization showcased their innovative spirit and ability to geek out over taxes during the weekend of February 5, when staff and volunteers hosted one of the most creative and successful tax filing events we’ve ever seen.
The “Taxathon” entailed 24 hours of tax preparation over two days. A team of 96 volunteers helped file 437 returns, getting $744,625 for 222 taxpayers, and encouraging 59 of them to save some of their refund. We asked Prepare + Prosper for some tips on how to host your own tax filing event.
Time it right
Many families who anticipate receiving large tax refunds want to file early. By adding hours during their busiest weekend, P+P ensured that more people could receive high quality free tax assistance and financial services. In turn, fewer people went to paid preparers, many of whom charge high fees and sell unnecessary, and sometimes harmful, financial products and services.
The Taxathon also built on the energy from EITC Awareness Day (which was the week before the event), and provided a new opportunity for media coverage.
Five, four, three, two, one…#taxathon! Thanks volunteers, Greater Twin Cities United Way, Claim it and more! Two days, 24 hours to get to 200 people, 400 returns, half million in refunds!
Posted by Prepare and Prosper on Friday, February 5, 2016
Celebrate your clients
One person walked in and said, “I’m never getting my taxes prepared anywhere else.” Another looked around and yelled, “It’s a party!”
With balloons, food, and streamers, how could it not be? When planning your own event, come up with ways to celebrate customers who come in year after year and to help new ones feel welcomed.
At the Taxathon, staff prepared contests, activities for kids, and snacks for everyone who came in. In addition, every 25th customer at the event was given $5 for coming in and was photographed.
Use a results board
Having visible goals provides a sense of fun competition. Staff at P+P created a results chalkboard that they updated every shift to show how many tax returns they had prepared, and how much money in refunds they generated. By the end of the 24 hours, they exceeded their goal of helping 200 people, including 50 savers, file 400 returns.
A results board can also be a fun picture to post on social media for friends who can’t make it to the event!
Get supporters involved…
P+P is a highly collaborative organization that relies on the support of volunteers, donors, and community partners to make their programs happen and the Taxathon was no different.
They asked donors and partners to stop by the event to bring food for volunteers, including chili, sloppy joes, pasta salad, brownies, fruit, and veggies for a healthy treat. The visitors added liveliness and fun, even if they couldn’t provide tax support.
You can ask community partners to provide financial or in-kind support if they don’t have the capacity to help with the event.
…Including local politicians and leadership
Local politicians can help generate excitement and interest in your event. Tax credits strengthen communities and put money back into the local economy, so politicians are often happy to attend awareness events. Local leaders can also help bring media attention. Speakers can thank dedicated volunteers and emphasize the positive impact of the EITC and free tax filing in the community.
To kick off the Taxathon, leaders from Greater Twin Cities United Way, the Internal Revenue Service, the Minnesota Department of Revenue, and Congressman Keith Ellison’s office came to celebrate the EITC.
Take lots of pictures and share them on social media
You can upload photos on Facebook and Twitter throughout the event to get people excited about coming in and spreading the word about your services. This is also a way to interest media outlets in covering your event. Afterwards, share your photos in an album and invite volunteers and customers to tag themselves!
Have you hosted a free tax filing event? Tell us about it and share your photos with us here.